If you’ve lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, the grief associated with the situation can be overwhelming. Wrongful death claims are designed to help family members like you recover on your associated losses (or damages in the eyes of the law). While nothing is going to return your loved one to you or is going to make your family whole again, a wrongful death claim can help you move forward on the difficult path toward healing and acceptance. Discuss your case with a dedicated Austin wrongful death attorney today.
What’s in This Guide
- What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
- The Four Key Elements of Wrongful Death Cases
- Common Causes of Wrongful Death
- The Burden of Proof
Wrongful death cases are civil lawsuits, which means that they are brought by individuals – rather than by the state – and they are intended to penalize the wrongdoer financially rather than to punish him or her for criminal wrongdoing (as in criminal cases). The fact is, however, that a wrongful death lawsuit can coincide with a criminal case (if the wrongdoing that caused you to lose your loved one, for example, was criminal in nature, the accused can face both criminal and civil charges). In the State of Texas, the following family members can file wrongful death cases in response to the death of a loved one (that was caused by someone else’s negligence):
- The surviving spouse of the decedent (the person who lost his or her life)
- The surviving children of the decedent
- The surviving parents of the decedent
Unlike in many other states, however, Texas does not allow surviving siblings of the decedent to file wrongful death claims.
There are four primary elements that must be present in order to bring a successful wrongful death case
Duty of Care Owed
To begin, the party whom you identify as being at fault for your loved one’s death must have owed him or her a duty of care to begin with, which means that the at-fault party must have had a responsibility to his or her safety. Two common examples where a duty of care is owed include:
- Every driver owes everyone else on the road a considerable duty of care that includes following the rules of the road and allowing the safe passage of others
- Commercial property owners and managers owe their visitors, customers, clients, and other invited guests the duty of care of maintaining their premises as carefully as other reasonable property owners do in similar situations.
Breach of Duty
The next element required for a wrongful death claim is that the accused must have breached the duty of care owed to the decedent. For example, when a motorist gets behind the wheel of his or her vehicle when he or she is drunk, the duty of care the driver owes others on the road is effectively breached. Further, when commercial property owners fail to implement the regularly required maintenance that other reasonable property owners routinely adhere to, it also qualifies as a breached duty of care.
It is not enough that the at-fault party owed a duty of care to the decedent and that he or she breached that duty. Instead, causation must be involved, and this means that the breached duty of care must have caused the fatal accident to happen in the first place. While it is against the law to drive drunk and drunk drivers are certainly dangerous, the element of causation is missing if the driver’s drunkenness isn’t the cause of the fatal accident in question.
Finally, in order to prevail with a wrongful death case, you must be able to demonstrate that there were actual legal damages involved. These can include any of the following:
- The medical costs experienced from the date your loved one was fatally injured to the date of his or her death
- The funeral and burial costs of your loved one
- The loss of financial support and potential inheritance that you experience
- The loss of companionship and help around the house that you experience
- The emotional anguish that you endure
While some of these can be difficult to quantify, all that apply are, nevertheless, very real and should be carefully addressed in your wrongful death claim
Wrongful death claims arise out of many different kinds of situations, but some of the most common include:
- Traffic accidents of every kind, including car, truck, motorcycle, pedestrian, bike, bus, and rideshare
- Accidents caused by dangerously defective consumer products
- Criminal conduct
- Medical malpractice
- Accidents on the job
- Nursing home abuse and/or neglect
If someone else’s negligence caused your loved one to be fatally injured, it’s time to consult with an experienced Austin wrongful death attorney. An important note to make here is that, in the State of Texas, the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases (the time limit for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit) is only two years (from the date of your loved one’s death – not from the date of the accident that ultimately proved fatal). While this may strike you as being plenty of time to address this matter legally, the fact is that the emotional blow that naturally accompanies wrongful death claims can make accomplishing this task within this timeframe more challenging that you may realize.
Because wrongful death claims are civil cases, the burden of proof required to prove the accused’s fault in the matter is less rigorous than it is in criminal cases. In a criminal case, the state must prove the defendant’s guilt in relation to the charges brought beyond a reasonable doubt, and at its core, this means that the necessary standard is proving that it would be unreasonable to find him or her not guilty. In a wrongful death case, however, you must prove the defendant’s guilt via the preponderance of the evidence, which means that it is more likely than not that the defendant is at-fault.
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You Need an Experienced Austin Wrongful Death Attorney on Your Side
Wrongful death claims are among the most emotionally difficult and legally challenging cases out there, and this is why the compassionate Texas wrongful death attorneys at The Patel Firm pour their wealth of experience and legal insight into helping clients like you obtain just compensation that addresses their complete damages. Learn more by contacting or calling us at 361-400-2036 today.